The holiday season comes with its own brand of food-related anxiety, and for people who struggle with keeping the pounds off during the end-of-the-year festivities, a harmless holiday party or family gathering can feel like a dieting death trap. It's pretty safe to say that most of us will loosen up our diet restrictions a little during the holidays, but how much is too much? What's the difference between "living a little" and taking things too far? Below are some simple tips to help you achieve the right balance between deprivation and getting stuffed during this holiday season.
1. Eat a small meal in the morning on the day of a holiday party. If you use the line of thinking that you need to skip breakfast in order to "save room" for the big meal, you'll probably be starving by the time you get there, and as we all know, that hardly ever ends well. Your cravings will be doing all the talking, and your judgment will be clouded because you'll be too hungry to think straight.
Instead, eat something protein-rich in the morning like scrambled eggs or even a breakfast meat like turkey sausage; this will help bring balance to your hunger hormones (i.e., leptin and ghrelin), so that you won't feel so desperate to get something in your stomach at the big feast.
2. Even when you're at the party, choose to dig into the protein-heavy foods first (e.g., turkey, ham, cheese, etc.). This will fill you up without causing an unhealthy spike in your blood sugar, which is what typically happens when you attack the sweets right off the bat. Even though Grandma's famous sweet potato casserole (yes, with the marshmallows on top) is calling your name, keeping this one simple tip in mind will help you approach the sweet treats with a more level head.
3. On your first trip to the buffet table, make your portions small. Having smaller portions of more foods will keep you from getting full on just one or two foods before you get a chance to try everything that's available to eat.
4. Stay hydrated. If you don't get enough water, you'll be more susceptible to sugar cravings, and you'll be more likely to overeat. It is a well-known fact that many times we can mistake the body's dehydration signals for hunger, so if you sense an abnormal craving for a particular sweet treat or junk food item, try drinking a full glass (or at least half a glass) of water before doing anything else. More often than not, this will reduce the intensity of the craving, allowing you to think clearer about how much of the treat you should eat.
5. Keep alcohol and sugar-laden drinks to a minimum by alternating between them and water. This will help balance consumption levels and keep you from racking up too many empty calories, while still allowing you to enjoy the beverages you like.
6. Strive to maintain an 80/20 ratio of good food to purely indulgent food. The holidays are a special time, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying those "feel-good" foods that may not be very nutritionally valuable, as long as it's done in moderation and balance. Simply put, it's not wise to try and swear off indulgent foods altogether; it's far too easy to go back on your promise, especially when you're confronted face-to-face with all of those goodies on the dessert table.
Simply strive to keep the overall percentage of sweet or junk food treats at a respectable level in light of everything else you're going to eat. For example, following up a slice of turkey and some green beans with three slices of pecan pie is not a healthy ratio. The 80/20 rule gives you a balanced and reasonable guideline to follow, so that you can maintain dieting sanity without feeling deprived.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about holiday eating is that you'll want to avoid any extremes on either end. It's not realistic to go the deprivation route, and it's not healthy to go on an eating splurge either. Use the ideas and suggestions outlined above to help you make sound, balanced eating decisions during the holiday season, so that you can truly eat well and be merry!